What is ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that affects millions of school-aged children. Though professionals typically diagnose ADHD in children (usually under the age of seven), the disorder can persist into adolescence and adulthood. In fact, according to Medline Plus, approximately 50 percent of all children with ADHD will continue to suffer from the disorder as adolescents or adults (2010).
Once called ADD, ADHD is a disorder whose symptoms include difficulties with both attention and behavioral control. ADHD symptoms can be classified into three different types.
Hyperactive symptoms include:
- Appearing restless
- Having trouble remaining seated
- Squirming or fidgeting frequently.
Impulsive symptoms include:
- Beginning activities without waiting for directions
- Blurting out answers
- Dominating conversations/interrupting
- Having trouble taking turns.
Inattentive symptoms include:
- Abandoning work or tasks before they are complete
- Avoiding tasks requiring sustained attention
- Exhibiting difficulty following directions
- Making careless mistakes.
ADHD symptoms vary from person to person. Based on the behaviors displayed most often by an individual, ADHD can be classified as one of three types: primarily inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, or combined type.
Not all children who exhibit ADHD symptoms will be diagnosed with the disorder. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ADHD symptoms must be continuing and persistent and must interfere with daily activities in multiple settings (e.g. both school and home) in order to merit a diagnosis (2010).
Generally, a child is diagnosed with ADHD only if he shows six or more inattention symptoms and six or more hyperactive-impulsive behaviors for at least six months. Some symptoms must appear before age seven. Most children with ADHD do not exhibit all ADHD symptoms.
Current evidence suggests that biological differences in the brain are likely the primary cause of ADHD. These include differences in neurotransmitter activity and levels in the brain. However, environmental factors can contribute to the development of the disorder, or worsen symptoms in affected individuals. These include exposure to toxins in utero or during childhood.
While no cure exists for ADHD, many treatment options can help to lessen symptoms and modify or suppress ADHD behaviors. If your doctor determines that you or your loved one is suffering from ADHD, he will discuss treatment options with you. Many doctors support the use of ADHD medications for treatment; however, counseling, special accommodations in the classroom (if applicable) and support of family and friends are also key parts of ADHD treatment.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). AAP recommendations diagnostic guidelines for ADHD. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/pages/AAP-Recommendations-Diagnostic-Guidelines-for-ADHD.aspx.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275/.
Medline Plus. (2010). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001551.htm.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2008). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/complete-index.shtml.